About 10 years ago, when the Thursday night TV fare of Dawson's Creek finished at 9 pm CST, I knew my teen daughters would begin to finalize plans for Friday night. There were phone calls up until 10 - 10:29 pm, and although they had cell phones, they did not use them as a life appendage the way the phone is used today. Friday afternoon came around, and after their respective high school sports' practices were over, they would change both clothing (the girls have their entire wardrobe strewn across bed and floor) and plans. Both, again and again. And then some more.
Fast forward 10 years with my 2 current teens, and my husband - (it is a challenge for this engineering mind who eats, sleeps, and breathes logic and rational planning) - and I witness the same Thursday night phenomenon, only in hyper speed.
There are dozens of texts, IM's, fb posts, and tweets which serve to change his and her plans between 9 and 11 times (I’m sure my husband has calibrated) in the course of homework and either Grey's Anatomy or the newly exciting Flash Forward. I feel as though I live in a used car lot where there are hundreds of cars with the same sticker on the windshield: "X $$$ OBO."
When I was 15 and 16, did I do that? Did I too, have this restlessness and lack of commitment to stick to a plan? Was it that I wanted to be with certain people, or had I wanted to go to or do specific events? Was I waiting for the best offer? The Thursday night plans seemed good enough to me, so why the need to alter the adolescent social game plan?
Calling on Erik Erikson's psychology and his eight stages of psychosocial development, he would say that these teens are exploring (Stage 5: Identity vs. Role Confusion”) - their identity - one moment at a time. Erikson contends that this is where adolescents figure out: "Who am I?" This particular Eriksonian stage was explored in my graduate thesis, and I discovered that the trying on of roles, was a necessary component for healthy adolescent interpersonal relations. The part we need to know as parents is that there has to be the confusion and chaos in the “search-for-my-identity” mix - that is how they learn to individuate and have successful relationships.
I did learn from my oldest daughters that my trying to get involved in any way, shape, or form to micromanage these plans is a deal breaker. Today, on Thursday nights, I smile and mindfully watch my son and daughter go through the Thursday night ritual, and with the flooding of texts and IMs, I wonder: is the electromagnetic field in my home elevated between the hours of 9 and 11 pm?
Having 4 children who are all very different is wonderful. Yet, in this Thursday night planning thing…they are all EXACTLY the same. Their behavior is automated. In this, my husband can be happy: it is a science that he can count on double digit plan-changing and be content that, without fail, our children’s plans will evolve through a series of best offers again and again, right up to the minute before the teens gather or the movie begins – and perhaps, not even then.
As an adult sitting in the movie theater, you know what I am talking about. Do you notice the flurry of jack-in-the-box teens who weave in and out of seats in an almost choreographed fashion? If you weren’t sitting, you’d be prone to dizziness, right? And forget climbing over you, around you, bumping backs of chairs, talking, texting throughout the movie…if you see a movie on Friday night – especially a movie that is PG13, well… that’s just poor judgment on your part. (You didn’t really think you’d be able to watch a weekend movie uninterrupted, did you?) If you want to see a PG movie on Friday night, that might be a little better. (My recommendation is to see a movie on Thursday night, especially if you feel yourself getting anxious or if you feel you need to know the plan before Friday night.)
Letting go of being attached to your adolescent's Friday night outcomes is essential for parental sanity. Rather, think about your teen's absolute need to explore the self and his/her identity within the adolescent social construct. Consider that it is like Friday night homework. When they have the opportunity to try on and mold their identities through decision making, creative planning, problem solving, and yes, drama, they will be that much further prepared and informed for healthy relationships. Waiting for OBO is a part of the identity game.